Saturday, March 28, 2009

View From the Opponent's Bench, Part I

We haven't done one of these this year, but Devon Edwards from has been very kind in working with me to preview Tuesday's game. My answers to his questions are here:

You said, " I really think they have been overrated this season and like our chances of getting to the finals." Don't you think you're overlooking a team that has wins over Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, twice, and Florida?

I'm a big Ken Pomeroy fan and study his rankings far more than I follow the RPI. His rankings have Penn State 67th, far lower than our previous three NIT opponents (43rd, 36th, and 49th). There are a few reasons for this. The Nittany Lions don't get a high percentage of blocks or steals on defense and give up a pretty high field goal percentage inside the arc. Andrew Jones, the most likely candidate to cover Harangody averages less than six points and rebounds per game. He'll struggle against a guy who has cut his teeth against the likes of DeJuan Blair and Hasheem Thabeet all year. Penn State has a few good wins and only one bad loss in Iowa, but overall I don't see the strength of schedule. Florida was no better than the three teams we beat to make the semis. You matched up well with a good Michigan State team, but so did we against a better Louisville squad (sent them to OT in the first meeting, laid a whooping on them in South Bend). Purdue figured y'all out in the second meeting. As for Illinois, I watched some of that 38-33 game and just saw bad basketball. Sure, there are some great defenses in the Big Ten, but Penn State ain't one of them.

Looking over the stats, Notre Dame is ranked second to last in the Big East in steals, and last in blocks. Do you guys play any defense?

No is the easy answer. For some reason (the departure of our best assistant coach, the graduation of a good all-around player in Rob Kurz, or otherwise) this year's team decided to take it easy on defense. It's worse that previous Mike Brey-coached teams. Our zone is very ineffective and we have gotten lost a few times in man-to-man. Frankly, it's embarrassing that such a veteran squad could be so inept in half of the game. Part of the reason is our tendency to recruit unathletic players who can shoot. Only one guy (Tory Jackson) has the quickness to stick with a majority of players at his position. We have gotten a bit better in the postseason, but defense will still be an issue Tuesday.

What happened in that seven game losing streak?

It was a tough schedule and we just crecked under the pressure. Seven games, including three against #1 seeds, all but two away from home. Had the schedule been a little more evenly spread out, we could have won one or two of those. As it is, we let an overtime loss to Louisville get us down and didn't recover for a month.

Basically, it seems like the Irish are a bunch of slow unathletic white guys who can shoot, and Luke Harangody. Why am I wrong?

No, you're right. Luke Harangody fits that description, as well. Our point guard, Tory Jackson, is the only one who can take a defender off the dribble. The rest of the rotation (expect Hillesland and Nash) and very good shooters. Mac and Ayers three-point threats, but not much more. Harangody has a very good midrange game that will help him in the pros and can hit the open three (a recent development). Off the bench, Luke Zeller is a seven foot shooting guard and Jonathan Peoples has been known to hit a couple clutch three pointers.

Thanks to Devon for being a good sport. We should have his answers to my questions about the Nittany Lions tomorrow.


Craig said...

ND started off the season playing very poorly on defense. Somewhere around the Louisville game, the light clicked on (I might suggest that Brey finally got it through his thick skull that this particular team is wretched playing zone), and the Irish have been much better since.

You wouldn't know it from their efficiency, but I thought ND played pretty well defensively against Kentucky. We blanketed Meeks, collapsed on Patterson, and forced the rest of the team to beat us.

Both the New Mexico and UAB games were closer than ND fans might have liked, and we won each of them because we were able to get defensive stops in crunch time near the end of the game.

All of that said, I worry about Penn State. (Take that with a grain of salt, I worry about everyone.) The common feature of the games against UAB and Kentucky is that they only had one guy who scared us from outside, so we were able to sag off of everyone else and they didn't hurt us. New Mexico shot atypically poorly.

BlackandGreen said...

We have regressed significantly on offense since the Providence game, finishing above our average efficiency in just two contests (barely vs. St. John's and by a lot against Kentucky). Due to the improved defense, we are 6-3 in that stretch. In those six wins, only one opponent (Kentucky) scored more than a point per trip.

I agree about our defense against Kentucky. While Patrick Patterson got a couple easy dunks in transition, Jodie Meeks was really well defended. He made some great shots with a hand in his face to keep it close. He was feeling it, but that's no insult to the Irish D.

We'll see how the Irish do against Penn State. I like how we match up with them more than I have any of our other opponents. However, we're not at home anymore. We lost to a much worse team than these guys at MSG in January.

Craig said...

There are things I do and don't like about the matchup with Penn State.

* Overall defensive efficiency: we haven't lost to anybody who's not in the top 100 in this category (closest was Cincinnati at 98). PSU checks in at 117th.
* Apparent lack of anybody who can contain LMFH: they're 241st in 2 pt FG defense and don't block shots (though they also don't give up free throws).
* Offensive rebounding: PSU does it relatively poorly. We've had trouble handling teams that crash the offensive glass (e.g. WVU and Pitt).

* 3 pt FG defense, we usually need three offensive options to win and two of the three candidates for the 2nd and 3rd option are primarily 3 pt shooters in KMac and Ayers. Will we be able to take advantage of their poor 2 pt defense?

* The things they do well on defense are not things we're set up well to attack on offense. We match up well with Louisville (to pick an obvious example) because their defense runs off of turnovers and we can protect the ball even against their pressure.

* Their 3 pt shooting. I'm not convinced we defend the 3 particularly well when a team has multiple shooters.